Friday, February 17, 2006

The Perils of E-Mail and the "Small" Legal Community.

Perhaps you have received an email about this already. I received a couple of them from various mailing lists that I susbscribe to. The subject of the email is the encounter between a young attorney named "Dianna Abdala" and a potential legal employer named "William Korman."

In a nutshell, here's the story:

Abdala applied for a job with Korman in his criminal defense practice. Korman offered Abdala a job, she accepted, and they agreed upon a starting date. Korman then decided to hire two attorneys, instead of one, and decided he had to reduce the salary he was willing to pay Abdala. When Korman notified Abdala of the reduction in salary, Abdala indicated that she'd have to give the offer more thought. Abdala eventually decided to inform Korman that she did not want to accept the job under the new terms -- by way of an email sent on the Friday evening before the Super Bowl. The initial email, although containing a misspelling, was generally cordial:

"Dear Attorney Korman: At this time, I am writing to inform you that I will not be accepting your offer. After careful consideration, I have come to the conclusion that the pay you are offering would neither fulfill me nor support the lifestyle I am living in light of the work I would be doing for you. I have decided instead to work for myself, and reap 100% of the benefits that I (sic) sew. Thank you for the interviews."

Korman attempted to get in touch with Abdala via telephone to discuss the situation, but was unsuccessful. Abdala left a voicemail, again declining the offer. According to the story from Lawyers Weekly, "here's where things go haywire." Here's what happened next:

Abdala countered with the following email: "A real lawyer would have put the contract into writing and not exercised any such reliance until he did so. Again, thank you."

Oh man.

It's one thing to be a little snippy with someone who has offered you a job, but to imply that they are not a "real lawyer"? Korman, by the way, has been a member of the bar for 10 years and in 2004 was named one of Lawyers Weekly's "Up and Coming Lawyers," for his burgeoning defense practice.

Korman, of course, could not allow this to go unanswered. I picture Samuel L. Jackson's character in "Pulp Fiction," gun in hand, saying "Are you finished? Well, allow me to retort."

Wrote Korman: "Thank you for the refresher course on contracts. This is not a bar exam question. You need to realize that this is a very small legal community, especially the criminal defense bar. Do you really want to start pissing off more experienced lawyers at this early stage of your career?"

It gets better. Or worse. Or both, really.

Abdala responded with the following email: "bla bla bla."

That sound that you hear is the sound of bridges burning.

Bla bla bla.

That's the entire email. As an observer said to me, "she didn't even bother to spell 'blah' correctly."

Sadly, when Abdala typed those three syllables of gibberish, she made an electronic record of her own impetuousness, a record that may haunt her for quite some time.

How do I know? Because I was one of roughly seven zillion people who received a copy of the email this week. Thanks to an unstoppable phalanx of forwarders, the brief exchange has made its way to a countless number of attorneys after Korman shared it with a friend and allowed him to share it with a few others.

Fueled by attorneys' curiosity that a young attorney would fire away at a would-be employer with so much vigor, the email chain made its way from firm to firm with the speed and recklessness of Apolo Ohno after six caffe lattes. It went to Rindler Morgan and Gadsby Hannah, to Mintz Levin and Sally & Fitch, to Nixon Peabody and Wilmer Hale.

It's been across the state and out of state. And to Europe. Seriously

The upshot of all this is that the relatively small legal community now knows all about the email conversations between this young attorney and her would-be employer. Although the Lawyers Weekly article makes this story out to be all about the unprofessionalism and "bridge-burning" of Abdala, a review of the above email exchange, to me, reflects poor judgment by both Abdala and Korman. Is it a bad idea, and potentially a career damaging one, to respond to a potential employer with an email like "bla bla bla"? Sure. But what does it say about Korman that his idea of a good response to Abdala's rejection of his offer - after he tried to change the terms *after* the job had been accepted and a start date agreed upon -- was to accuse Abdala of being immature and unprofessional? Certainly he is not free of blame in this incident.

The moral of the story is certainly that we should all rememeber just how easily email can take on a life of its own and create a written record of our poor judgments and poor choices of words.

**FOLLOWUP: February 21, 2006 post about how this kind of behavior may not be a career-killer afterall.

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